How to Ace the Career Fair

Fall is here and many of you are probably preparing for campus career fairs. With so many potential employers in one spot, you definitely want to make a good impression right? When thinking about your approach to the fair, it may help to start by putting yourself in the shoes of the campus recruiter. In other words…

  • You are meeting a lot of students in one day. (A lot of students!)
  • You have a series of interviews stacked on each other in 30 minute blocks.
  • You are not looking for “good” students, you want to find Rock Stars!

I’ve been involved in lots of interviews and most are pretty perfunctory. For example, nine times out of ten the student being interviewed is professional, eager to please, and will probably do fine in the workforce. As a recruiter, though, I don’t want “fine” – I want GREAT. I want someone that will make me spit out my coffee and hire them on the spot. How can YOU become one of the “greats”?

Have a plan: Don’t even think of going into a career fair without knowing a.) who’s going to be there and b.) who you want to speak with. Recruiters don’t want to feel like you just stumbled on to their booth. They want to feel like your TOP choice, even if you’re still eyeing other firms.

Have a clue: Research, research, research. These days companies have put themselves out there so much on the web and through social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that there’s really no excuse for not knowing basic information such as core services areas and key players. Also, if you can find out who is doing the on-campus interviews for one of your top picks, don’t be afraid to call them in advance to introduce yourself. (Hint: No one does this!)

Understand how you’re being evaluated: To make the recruiting process more objective, most employers have recruiters fill out a simple ratings sheet for each person they interview. These sheets are pretty standard and will usually cover most if not all of the following:

  • Personal appearance: If you dress like you’re serious, people will treat you like you’re serious. For interviews, this means a suit. Also, when it comes to accessories, cologne, etc. it’s best to err on the conservative. Basically, if you even have to question the appropriateness of a choice, it’s probably not the right one.
  • Professionalism: Couple tips here:
  • Have your elevator pitch down. The elevator pitch is your answer to the question “Tell me about yourself.” It needs to be under two minutes and should include some general background information, demonstrated leadership, and what you will bring to an organization. For example:

“I grew up in Seattle, but moved here to attend university. I’m a junior this year with a major in accounting and a minor in communications. I know that accounting today is much more than numbers in a box so I felt my communications courses would prepare me for the demands of client service. I’m a member of student government serving as co-chair of the community outreach committee, and in that role I’ve organized projects for the United Way and Habitat for Humanity. I’ve researched your company and I know that you offer the resources of a ‘Big 4’ with the personal touch of a smaller firm and I believe that combination will give me the best opportunity to contribute and grow my career in the long run.”

The best way to perfect your elevator pitch is to practice. You should be able to recite this in your sleep. Also, here’s a list of 50 other standard interview questions you might find useful:

Be confident! One of the fastest ways to turn off an interviewer is to appear overly nervous. If you can’t handle the interview – how are you going to handle clients? Naturally, you will be nervous. The trick is to appear as if you’re not, e.g. look people in the eye when you speak, be secure in your delivery (Note: This comes from practice – see above) and watch how often you use filler words like “um, ah,” etc. Bonus points to anyone who can articulate their career path at this point. For example, at Dixon Hughes, our entry-level employees start as Associates and then move on to Senior Associate, Manager, Senior Manager and Member. If you are speaking from this script too, you will be miles above other candidates who have only a general idea of where they want to go. 

Carry your resume in an executive padfolio. This not only keeps your papers neat, but makes a spiral notebook or binder look like small potatoes.  Also, bring at least five copies of your resume because you never know how many people will be in the interview  and you definitely don’t want to come up short.

Leadership: You are also being judged on your leadership potential. Since you probably don’t have any real career experience yet, this will be evaluated by how you’ve spent your time on campus. Have you assumed any leadership roles within a student organization? Do you have any volunteer experience? What interests or passions do you have outside of your classes that could demonstrate leadership ability, e.g. mission trips, sports teams, etc.? Employers know that if you can lead in any of these capacities, then those skills readily translate into the office environment.

Etiquette:  Finally, candidates who ascend to “Rock Star” status understand the basics of etiquette. This is not just about showing up on time. It’s about standing to shake the hand of your interviewer(s), addressing them as “Mr. or Ms.” and – very important – following up with a post-meeting thank you note or email. These days success is heavily-reliant on interpersonal skills, meaning that having superior manners is more than just a courtesy. It’s good business.

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